Advocare 500 - Practice

Chase leader Jimmie Johnson on pole for Phoenix

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With Chase for the Sprint Cup leader Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth separated by only seven points with two races remaining, every advantage gained by either of them will be critical.

Today, Johnson may have earned a big one as he won the pole for Sunday’s Advocare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway with a time of 25.858 seconds (139.222 mph) around the 1-mile oval. Before going out to qualify, Johnson said he expected track position to be the most critical factor in Sunday’s race.

“We haven’t been able to really work in a second lane around here and create passing opportunities,” he said. “That means your strategy on pit road and the stops themselves are where the weight really lies.

“If you back up another step from that, making sure your car is good on older tires is going to be important as race practice develops and you’re not going to want to be on pit road much or very long when it shakes out on Sunday.”

Johnson, a four-time winner at PIR and one of four drivers in the track’s history to win a Cup race from the pole position, was also quickest in this morning’s practice session. His pole run in the afternoon was a track record, marking the 19th time this season that the Generation 6 cars have broken an old mark.

As for Kenseth, who has one past win at PIR (2002), he will have to start from 14th position on Sunday after turning a lap of 26.143 seconds (137.704 mph).

Denny Hamlin, who has logged three consecutive top-three finishes at PIR, will start alongside Johnson on the front row thanks to his time of 25.895 seconds (139.023 mph). Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. (10th, 26.074 seconds/138.069 mph) are the only two non-Chase competitors with a Top-10 starting position for Sunday.

Joey Logano and Kyle Busch make up Row 2, followed by Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer in Row 3, Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch in Row 4, and Kevin Harvick and Truex in Row 5. Carl Edwards, who won this past spring at PIR, will have to rally from 23rd on the grid.

Other notables include Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 11th, Brad Keselowski in 12th, Jeff Burton (celebrating his 1,000th NASCAR national series start this weekend) in 15th, and Danica Patrick in 32nd.

Mercedes set to clinch F1 constructors’ championship in Russia

SOCHI, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 08:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP speaks with members of the media in the paddock during previews to the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on October 8, 2015 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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For the second year in a row, Mercedes is poised to wrap up the Formula 1 constructors’ championship in Sochi at this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix.

Mercedes won its first F1 teams’ title in Russia last year, having returned to the sport as a works constructor in 2010. When it last enjoyed such status in the 1950s, there was no championship for the teams.

Just as it did in 2014, Mercedes has dominated proceedings in F1 this season, winning all but three races and sweeping to eight one-two finishes to leave drivers Lewis Hamilton (pictured) and Nico Rosberg battling for the drivers’ title for the second straight year.

Now, Mercedes seeks the knock-out blow in the constructors’ title race by officially wrapping it up in Sochi this weekend.

To do so, the team must simply outscore rivals Ferrari by three points this weekend. The lead currently stands at 169 points, with 215 still on offer. After Sochi, there will be 172 remaining.

“We return to Russia with positive memories from last season, when the team sealed the first constructors’ title for Mercedes-Benz with a one-two finish,” team boss Toto Wolff said.

“A repeat performance in Sochi would be fantastic and this is absolutely the target – but we are under no illusions that it will come easy. The job is not done yet.”

The tire allocation for this weekend’s race could pose problems to Mercedes just as it did in Singapore, potentially allowing Ferrari to spoil the party and delay the victory celebrations at Brackley.

However, if the form book is to be trusted, Sochi could be playing host to another Mercedes party on Sunday night with a second world title in the bag for the Silver Arrows.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Charlie Kimball

Charlie Kimball
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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the driver-by-driver recaps following the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season, with a look at Charlie Kimball, who finished 12th this year.

Charlie Kimball, No. 83 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 14th Place, Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 6th, 1 Podium, 4 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 16.3 Avg. Start, 12.6 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 12th Place, Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 6th, 2 Podiums, 3 Top-5, 5 Top-10, 21 Laps Led, 13.3 Avg. Start, 13.1 Avg. Finish

“Super Chuck” – as NBCSN’s Townsend Bell has called him in the past – had another typically “Super Chuck” season. He produced some dizzying heights, made a few mistakes, and posted a lot of consistent runs in the middle that ultimately netted him 12th in points for the season.

We wrote last year that one of the areas where Kimball most needed to improve was his qualifying, and a three-spot year-to-year gain from 16.3 to 13.3 delivered that improvement. Problem was, in a Chevrolet top-heavy grid, Kimball might have been qualifying better, but he was qualifying behind at least seven or eight more fancied Chevrolet runners. In a Honda, you worry if Kimball’s grid positions this year would have dipped into the low teens or high 20s, rather than only just missing advancing into Q2 as was often the case.

While Barber and Mid-Ohio had served as his standout races in the past, the undoubted highlight of Kimball’s 2015 season was his quiet early – then dynamic late – drive to third in the Indianapolis 500. It was a performance that was particularly impressive given he was up against past series champions Juan Pablo Montoya, Will Power and Scott Dixon, who were all vying for the win. Another podium at Sonoma was his first on a road or street course since Detroit race two in 2014, and put him third in points in the two double points races for the year.

But mistakes occurred all too regularly in the 14 standard points events, where he ranked 14th among all drivers. Contacting Dixon in Detroit, surviving a nightmare weekend in Iowa with multiple incidents, and coming together with Graham Rahal in St. Petersburg – even though Rahal was assessed a penalty for avoidable contact – were all moments he’d like to have back.

Kimball’s five years into his IndyCar career and there’s enough evidence to suggest now his breakout 2013 season was an outlier, not the norm. But seasons like 2014 and 2015 prove he still has plenty in hand to cut it at this level, and together with his entire Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing team, an overall asset to the sport.